How to recognize auditor quality work - depth and emphasis

publication date 11.04.2010

Depth and emphasis of auditing - the common practise in Czech Republic

Internal auditors help to develop and improve the company. However, is there any way of knowing, for a non-auditing manager, whether or not the certification auditor, the external auditor or the internal auditor are performing so that their company can benefit? Audit results mostly represent changing of „papers“, and the manager does not know whether a particular project or order has really been realized well.

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Audits in today´s business are absolutely commonplace. Bigger firms are audited virtually every month, often several times. Here, I am dealing with the process audits, the certification audits and the supervisory audits, not with the financial audits. Therefore, they are audits according to the system standards ISO 9001, ISO 14001, AS 9100, TS 16949 and others.  

Depth and emphasis of auditing 

The auditor´s position is very unrewarding. In most cases, the auditor is supposed to verify, during a single day, whether a defined part of the field audited works and meets all the customer-specified requirements - legislation, internal regulations, good practice within a particular line of business, etc. They are many and impossible to do without a good preparation and a preliminary study of documentation. The preparation for audit alone routinely takes from 3 to 10 hours studying the audited field.  

Requirements the auditor has to meet are really enormous, especially they are to assess mutual interactions of processes and activities. It cannot be achieved properly without experience of many years. While auditing, the auditor ought to check the following spheres: 

  • documentation – it includes descriptions of processes, activities, relations, information flows, legislative requirements  
  • realization – what is really being and has been done, what has been delivered to the customer
  • specialization - whether the industry´s rules and good practice have been adhered to, for instance the retaining lien in the construction industry, documentation of elements covered, etc. 

In each field a different depth of detail can be followed. In plain language, from ideas, plans to real documentation, realization and applied specialization. In each of the fields specified there are clearly defined levels (see figure „Depth and emphasis of auditing“) in which the auditor can immerse themselves . From superficial ideas down to details. It is the details where the real quality is mostly hidden. You know it well for yourselves: everything can be verbally justified and promised“. Yet the company´s owner needs quality results to satisfy the customer´s needs.  

 Balance and relevance of auditing

The question: „What is the ultimate goal of my enterprise?“ The correct answer: „Profit from satisfied customers who keep coming back“. The entrepreneur needs the results, ie. timely, complete and professional fulfilment of all requirements (including the mandatory ones). Real results are not going to materialize on the paper, they have to be done and, subsequently, documented on the paper. This is the reason why the balance of auditing should be distributed in the following ratio: 20% documentation and 80% practice. Indeed, the significance of auditing is based on practice. It follows that audit has to be done 80% with people who perform a particular work, on specific orders and not on the desk! Normally, the auditor goes from the information provided by the audited during a discussion. However, they should have them document the results. It is exactly at this point where it becomes clear that the reality tends to be different; the audited make many assumptions that they  hold for reality which it is not. The managers fall for this phenomenon most frequently. Ultimately, it is logical  – they want the company to work, and so, when there appear the first signs of the desired goal they are inclined to hold it for reality. It would be ideal if the managers themselves became internal auditors or, at least, if they passed the basic auditor training. Not only would they learn new approaches, know the right questions to ask at meetings, but they would make it very clear they are interested to have all the processes they are responsible for working. They would be really hard to fool then.  

Everyday reality 

From discussions with owners and managers of companies, I have learned their predominant view that the certification audits, the supervisory audits and the internal audits are formal. They bring them nothing, yet they have to weather them in order to keep the certification which sometimes has to be submitted in a contest. For them, thus, the audits become a no small financial cost which has to be taken in account. Nobody has a chance to explain the managers/owners the audit is their management tool. The internal auditor represents their eyes in the field, their „thermometer“ measuring the temperature of the patient-company.  

Sadly, most audits are carried out at the desk, over documentation, and only with the quality guys involved too. A much smaller part of the audit is done with the worker themselves. Some managers have even complained the certification auditor did not turn up sending them only the papers instead. Also, some auditors may execute the audit on the entire system according to ISO 9001 in 6 hours.  

Let us try to evaluate the auditor´s work on the scale from 1 to 10 to expressly indicate the value of the auditor´s performace in a given level of the field audited. Let us also consider whether the auditor draws conclusions from what they are told by the audited, or they have the information duly documented with proofs. Then we can find the focus of the auditor´s work. The attached figure „Depth and emphasis of auditing“ depicts the common practice in the Czech Republic as based on our experience. **You will easily learn that, instead of the 20% documentation and 80% practice ratio, the real life ratio is 66% documentation and 34% practice.** The focus of the auditor´s work, then, is to be found in documentation which is assessed at the desk, and not in realization where the results are created. 

The best ideas, the added value, nevertheless, are not born at the desk, but in practice when focused on the given subject matter. Likewise, the emphasis of the auditor´s work should be heavily on practice; they should be useful when they cost us so dearly.   

Conclusion

If you do not want to waste your money on the auditor as well as on your workers, specify clearly your requirements for auditors with emphasis on practical verification of activities in the field and not on checking the documentation. Have the auditors deliver some added value. Set them goals for added value in the realization and for cooperation with the audited. Do not pay uselessly to external and certification auditors who do not do their work properly. You had better pay the auditor who openly warns you of real faults, for nobody is really going to take your certificate away from you if you have paid for it. The best course of action, then, is to have the auditor give you as much information as possible in order to improve your own company´s operation. The attitude of the certification bodies is not right. They do it as a business they have introduced themselves. They care more for their own income than the real quality of products and work done by companies.  

Jiří Střelec

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„Before I set out on a long journey of business or take up a new position at work, I should know who I am, what I can do and what I like.“ more >>

Jiří Střelec Jiří Střelec

Considering oneself a master of a trade is easy. Especially from the desk, you may think what you like. The reality, however, tends to be different. The second stage of our younger life (say, from high school up to our 30th birthday) is an exploratory one for us. We should try out more jobs, positions, situations, etc. It will help us learn how we feel in different situations, what we are good at, what makes us feel good. In doing so, we learn about OURSELVES and can take responsibility for our lives and, eventually, for our children or a team of our workmates. Try new things, learn about yourselves before you start investing into a business, a new partnership, job positions. You will, thus, prevent needless tears and stress.